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Melissa Sue Gerrits/Getty Images(NASHVILLE, Tenn.) -- President Donald Trump's former national security adviser John Bolton defended his decision not to share what information he may know about the president's personal involvement in activities in Ukraine until after his book is published, ultimately claiming his testimony would have been insignificant.

"People can argue about what I should have said and what I should have done," Bolton said Wednesday at Vanderbilt University, during his second public appearance of the week. "I will bet you a dollar right here and now my testimony would have made no difference to the ultimate outcome."

"I sleep at night because I have followed my conscience," he continued.

Bolton appeared alongside his predecessor, President Barack Obama's national security advisor Susan Rice, who questioned his decision to remain silent despite not being subpoenaed to testify in the Senate impeachment trial.

"It's inconceivable to me that if I had firsthand knowledge of a gross abuse of presidential power, that I would withhold my testimony," Rice stated to a round of applause. "I would feel like I was shamefully violating my oath that I took to support and defend the Constitution."

Democrats were eager to hear from Bolton during the Senate impeachment trial after multiple witnesses painted him as someone both aware of and opposed to the president's efforts in Ukraine. Senate Republicans ultimately defeated Their efforts, an outcome Bolton admitted Wednesday night that he did not expect.

But Bolton also harshly criticized the process, saying the House had "committed impeachment malpractice."

"The process drove Republicans who might have voted for impeachment away from the president because it was so partisan," Bolton said.

In his upcoming book, The Room Where It Happened: A White House Memoir, Bolton makes at least two explosive allegations about Trump, according to excerpts of the manuscript obtained and released by the New York Times: that Trump personally tied aid to Ukraine with investigations into former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, and that Trump tasked Bolton with setting up a meeting between Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and Rudy Giuliani, the president's personal attorney.

Despite a repeated stated desire to do so, Bolton has refrained from sharing his knowledge on impeachment-related matters while his book goes through a pre-publication security review for classified information with the White House National Security Council. Wednesday night, he warned of an "implied threat of criminal prosecution" if he were to "just spill [his] guts."

Rice questioned this reasoning, noting she had experienced her fair share "of trepidation about going through the clearance process at the White House" with her own book.

"I can't say that at any point, the fact of being in the pre-clearance process caused me to refuse to share information with Congress and the public that I thought was of national import," Rice continued. "I just don't understand using the fact of the pre-clearance process as a reason not to be forthcoming."

Bolton on Monday night had accused the Trump administration of "censorship" in its review process while speaking at Duke University, which was his first public remarks since the conclusion of Trump's impeachment trial.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.



Mario Tama/Getty Images(LAS VEGAS) -- There have been contentious arguments, strong policy disagreements and tense exchanges on the eight debate stages thus far in the primary cycle, and then there was Wednesday night’s brawl in Las Vegas.

From its onset, the debate shedded any semblance of civility and exposed the strengths and weakness of the six Democratic contenders that stood on the stage at a critical time for their campaigns, just days before Nevadans hold their caucuses and weeks before the Super Tuesday contests award the largest swath of delegates yet.

He may not have appeared on a single ballot, or won a single delegate, but former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the newcomer on the stage, was the lightning rod at the center of near-constant attacks, turning in an uneven performance as the field grapples with his rise in the polls.

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren turned in a fiesty performance, going after Bloomberg, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar and former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who in turn had testy moments between each other. Former Vice President Joe Biden also mixed it up with Bloomberg as he tries to revive his faltering campaign. Meanwhile Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who has taken a sizable lead in recent national polls, fended off attacks on policy and his personal health.

Here are five takeaways from a Democratic debate full of fireworks on the Las Vegas Strip.

Everybody versus Bloomberg


With perhaps the entire field recognizing the urgency of Wednesday’s debate, it took less than 10 minutes for the most divisive debate of the cycle to emerge.

The gloves came off, early and often, for the Democratic contenders eager to poke holes in Bloomberg’s record and argument for why he’s the best candidate to beat Donald Trump in November.

“I'd like to talk about who we're running against. A billionaire who calls women fat broads and horse-faced lesbians, and no I'm not talking about Donald Trump, I'm talking about Mayor Bloomberg,” Warren said to audible gasps in the debate hall, alluding to the slew of recent stories on the mistreatment of women in the workplace at Bloomberg’s companies.

“Let's put forward someone who's actually a Democrat...We shouldn't have to choose between one candidate who wants to burn this party down and another candidate who wants to buy this party out,” Buttigieg said slamming both Bloomberg and Sanders.

“The mayor says that he has a great record, that he’s done these wonderful things. Well, the fact -- the fact of the matter is, he has not managed his city very, very well when he was there. He didn't get a whole lot done,” said Biden, who went after Bloomberg’s past criticism of the landmark Affordable Care Act and his criminal justice record.

For his part, Bloomberg largely tried to stay above the fray, defending the astronomical amount of money he’s poured into his campaign, more than $400 million to this point.

“I'm spending that money to get rid of Donald Trump, the worst president we've ever had and If I can get that done, it will be a great contribution to America and to my kids,” Bloomberg said.

A feisty Warren comes out swinging and doesn’t stop

Warren is in a fight for her political life, and Wednesday night made it clear she’s willing to fight harder than ever before to get back to the top of the pack.

In what marks a complete shift from her debate strategy to this point, Warren consistently and aggressively attacked her rivals on topic after topic.

Her immediate jab at Bloomberg set the tone for the entire debate, and coming off disappointing finishes in Iowa and New Hampshire it was crystal clear that Warren viewed Wednesday’s debate as a make or break moment for her campaign.

On health care, the Massachusetts senator went after Buttigieg and Klobuchar, labeling their plans as either “Powerpoints,” or “two paragraphs.”

“Amy, I looked online at your plan, it's two paragraphs. Families are suffering. And they need a plan,” Warren said, eliciting incredulous responses from the former South Bend Mayor and Minnesota Senator.

Warren also dinged Sanders, describing his candidacy as a gamble on a “revolution,” that may not form a winning coalition in November.

In a sign that her performance may have resonated, at least with her supporters, Warren had the best fundraising hour of her entire campaign during the debate, including $425,000 raised in just half an hour at one point.

Warren needs a strong showing in the Nevada caucuses this weekend to reestablish her campaign among the top tier, and the next three days will show if Wednesday night helped her get back in the fray.

Experience clashes with vision, with scarce talk of Trump

Wednesday night’s debate offered a distillation of the candidate’s central arguments, experience versus vision, pragmatism versus idealism, and those contrasts, which have defined the race so far, were fuel for some of the night’s most impactful moments.

“You're staking your candidacy on your Washington experience,” Buttigieg said, taking aim at Klobuchar for forgetting the name of the Mexican President in a recent interview.

“Are you trying to say that I'm dumb or are you mocking me here, Pete?” Klobuchar responded, sparking a lengthy exchange between the two Midwesterners.

Sanders and Warren again pushed forward their progressive agendas, labeling their opponents as nothing more than a continuation of the “status quo,” despite their lofty rhetoric.

“If my plan is the status quo, why was it attacked by the insurance industry the moment it came out?” Buttigieg said in response to Sanders’ criticism of his healthcare plan.

Biden clung to his argument that his long record of delivering on progressive change, largely staying out of the night’s most contentious fights but chiding many on the stage for past blemishes on their records.

The continuous clashes however did not allow candidates much time to make their arguments as to why they are the best candidate to defeat Donald Trump, despite that being the top priority of Democratic voters.

“We have not been talking enough about Donald Trump!” Klobuchar lamented mid-debate.

“I can't think of a way to make it easier for Donald Trump to get reelected than listening to this conversation,” Bloomberg quipped during a discussion on economic policy.

Bloomberg makes an uneven debate debut


In his Democratic debate debut -- the first time the former mayor has graced the debate stage in decades -- Bloomberg found himself at times, ducking incoming fire as it came from every direction, and other times, standing tall as he sought to cast his candidacy as the one who can take on Donald Trump.

Among the many achilles heels he faced Wednesday night, Bloomberg struggled the most to meet the moment when confronted over both his past support for the controversial policy of “stop-and-frisk” policing and allegations that he directed crude and sexist comments towards female employees within the company that bares his name, and holding them still in confidentiality agreements.

“If I go back and look at my time in office, the one thing that I'm really worried about, embarrassed about, was how it turned out with Stop and Frisk,” he said during the first hour of the matchup, seeking to end the debate over the policy there.

On stage, as he addressed the accusations against him by former female employees, he appeared to get more rattled as he was pushed on the issue by his rivals, and ultimately and awkwardly said, “None of them accuse me of doing anything other than, maybe, they didn't like a joke I told,” to audible groans in the audience.

The agitation with Bloomberg’s presence on stage could be felt in both the other candidates’ pointed and frequent strikes against him, and as the candidates chimed in with more muted reactions to his responses.

After Bloomberg said he would release his tax returns “in a few weeks,” but added that he’s only been in the race for 10 weeks, Buttigieg interjected with a sharp attack, saying, “That's right, we have. Engaging with voters, humbling ourselves.”

But the billionaire philanthropist found his stride as he outlined his approach to tackling climate change, ticking through his extensive knowledge of the issue, before arguing for a more urgent timeline, saying, “No scientist thinks the numbers for 2050 anymore. They’re 2040, 2030."

He also showed his strength as he took on Sanders’ support for employee ownership in companies, arguing, “I can't think of a way that would make it easier for Donald Trump to get reelected than listening to this conversation. This is ridiculous. We're not going to throw out capitalism. We tried that. Other countries tried that. It was called communism and it just didn't work.”

Electability remains at the forefront of the Democrats’ arena

In between the punches, the Democratic contenders sought to pitch the electability of their respective campaigns, each offering a distinct argument that attempted to play on their strengths as a candidate.

“Democrats want to beat Donald Trump. But they are worried. They are worried about gambling on a narrow vision that doesn't address the fears of millions of Americans across this country who see real problems and want real change. They are worried about gambling on a revolution that won't bring along a majority of this country,” Warren argued.

“I have repeatedly said that we have to win big. The way we win big is winning states like Nevada. But also, winning the senate races in Arizona and in Colorado and beyond. And the reason we want to do that is to send Mitch McConnell packing,” said Klobuchar, emphasizing her Midwestern roots.

“I'm asking for your vote, because America is running out of time. And this is our only chance to defeat Donald Trump. If you look at the choice between a revolution or the status quo and you don't see where you fit in that picture, then join us,” Buttigieg offered.

The return to the electability pitch, despite the intense squabbling on stage, shows that these Democrats still clearly see Trump as their main targets, but still differ vastly in how that objective is achieved.

Even an attempt at unity fell back into the field’s division during the debate’s closing moments.

“The bottom is all of us are united in defeating the most dangerous president in the modern history of this country. That we agree on,” Sanders said in his closing statement before launching into a contrast on healthcare.

Ultimately the decision on which candidate has the best chance to defeat Donald Trump lies where it always has: the voters.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.



Win McNamee/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Since his indictment in January 2019, Roger Stone's path to Thursday's sentencing hearing has been anything but ordinary. But given his long history as a political dirty trickster, perhaps it should come as no surprise that his legal woes have followed an equally unusual trajectory.

The veteran Republican operative was found guilty in November of obstructing justice, witness tampering and five counts of lying to Congress. His pre-trial proceedings were largely marked by his out-of-court statements, triggering progressively tighter gag orders. His trial featured testimony from a comedian who repeatedly invoked characters from The Godfather: Part II.

But less than two weeks before his sentencing, the most consequential twist: a disagreement between line prosecutors and the Justice Department's political leadership over Stone's sentencing recommendation, the fallout from which continues to resonate throughout Washington. And looming over it all? A possible pardon from his longtime friend, President Donald Trump, who on Tuesday again expressed sympathy for Stone.

The two go back decades, and at his trial late last year, prosecutors connected Stone's crimes with an effort to protect Trump. Stone, 67, has previously taken credit for persuading the president to get into politics and once served as an adviser to Trump's presidential campaign.

After formally leaving the campaign in late 2015, Stone remained in touch with multiple senior advisers to Trump -- and Trump himself. According to testimony and evidence presented at his trial, Stone became the campaign's informal point-person on all things WikiLeaks -- a relationship that underpinned lies he eventually told during sworn testimony before the House Intelligence Committee in September 2017. Stone was convicted of misleading the committee on several key elements of their probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 election, including communications he had with the Trump campaign about discussing WikiLeaks dissemination of damaging documents stolen from Democrats during the campaign.

Stone was arrested in a pre-dawn FBI raid on his Florida home on Jan. 25, 2019. In the 10 months leading to his trial, Stone repeatedly made inflammatory comments about the judge overseeing his case and the prosecutors who brought charges. After posting an image to social media with U.S. Judge Amy Berman Jackson apparently shown in the crosshairs of a firearm scope, she issued a gag order preventing him and his legal team from speaking publicly about the case.

At trial in November, jurors found him guilty on all seven counts. But in the weeks leading up to his sentencing hearing, Stone's lawyers twice made last-ditch efforts to get a new trial by raising issues with at least two jurors.

Last week, unsealed court documents revealed that Judge Jackson denied a previous sealed motion for a new trial filed by Stone's defense team earlier this month involving a post-trial objection to one of the jurors. The individual disclosed during the jury selection process that they had a legal background and had worked for the IRS. A second sealed motion for a new trial was filed by Stone's attorneys last Friday citing alleged jury misconduct. Details of both the request and the Justice Department's subsequent opposition to their motion are mostly unknown while under seal.

In a conference call with Stone, his defense team and two DOJ prosecutors on Tuesday, Jackson said that she has decided not to delay Stone's sentencing in light of the defense's latest bid for a new trial. But, Jackson said on the call, "I will ensure that the execution of sentence and the deadline for the filing of a notice of appeal will be deferred to ensure that the defendant has had the benefit of the ruling on the motion before filing any notice of appeal."

Since his conviction, the national interest in Stone's legal fortunes has waned. But that changed earlier this month when Trump unexpectedly weighed in on a sentencing recommendation filed by the four Justice Department prosecutors running Stone's case. Last week, those prosecutors told the court that Stone's crimes and his out-of-court conduct warranted a prison term of seven to nine years.

Within hours of their filing that sentencing recommendation, at 1:48 a.m., a message appeared on the president's Twitter feed: "This is a horrible and very unfair situation. The real crimes were on the other side, as nothing happens to them. Cannot allow this miscarriage of justice."

The next day, a senior Justice Department official told reporters that "the department was shocked to see the sentencing recommendation," and that "the department will clarify its position later today at the court."

That statement prompted all four Justice Department prosecutors who signed onto the sentencing memorandum to withdraw from Stone's case in protest. One of those prosecutors resigned from the department entirely.

Later that day, a new prosecutor on the case filed an amended memorandum arguing that the previous recommendation of seven to nine years "would not be appropriate" -- and instead "defers to the court as to what specific sentence is appropriate," but implored Jackson to take into consideration Stone's "advanced age, health, personal circumstances and lack of criminal history in fashioning an appropriate sentence."

In the aftermath of the sentencing controversy, Attorney General William Barr told ABC News Chief Justice Correspondent Pierre Thomas that Trump "has never asked me to do anything in a criminal case," but he should stop tweeting about certain Justice Department cases.

"I think it's time to stop the tweeting about Department of Justice criminal cases," Barr said, adding that the tweets "make it impossible for me to do my job."

On Tuesday, ABC News reported that Barr had told people close to Trump that he is considering resigning over the tweets.

Regardless of the sentence Judge Jackson imposes on Stone, a wild-card factor could render the terms inconsequential: a pardon from Trump -- which he has not ruled out. On Tuesday, the president expressed sympathy for his longtime confidant and downplayed Stone's role in his campaign.

"I think Roger Stone's been treated unfairly," Trump said.

Asked whether he believes Stone deserves to serve time in prison, Trump replied, "you're going to see what happens, let's see what happens."

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.



DKart/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- In defiance of Attorney General Bill Barr's warnings that he stop tweeting about the Justice Department and criminal cases, President Donald Trump fired off more than a dozen retweets and tweets on Wednesday that seemed to support calls from conservative allies that Barr should “clean house” at DOJ.

A DOJ spokeswoman declined to comment when asked about the president's retweets.

On Tuesday, Trump had pointedly pushed back on Barr, who as attorney general is traditionally viewed as the nation's chief law enforcement officer.

"I’m allowed to be totally involved," Trump said. "I’m actually, I guess, the chief law enforcement officer of the country. But I’ve chosen not to be involved.”

Trump stopped short of directly criticizing Barr on Wednesday, mostly retweeting the sentiments of others.

There must be JUSTICE. This can never happen to a President, or our Country, again! https://t.co/5epW4JPYkF

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 19, 2020

Several of Trump's retweets came from Tom Fitton, president of the conservative activist group Judicial Watch. Fitton claimed on Twitter Tuesday that Trump was “the victim of a seditious conspiracy” by the Justice Department and FBI in terms of the investigation into the presidents 2016 presidential campaign and its connection to Russia.

As the president continued to ignore appeals from the attorney general, he faces the possibility of Barr acting on his warnings. Barr told people close to Trump Tuesday that he is considering resigning over the tweets that Barr had previously said make it “impossible” to do his job, sources tell ABC News.

All of this online turmoil follows more than a week of Trump openly expressing his outrage at the case against his longtime ally Roger Stone, who is scheduled to be sentenced Thursday morning for lying to Congress, obstructing a congressional inquiry and witness tampering.

Last week, the president took to Twitter criticizing the sentencing recommendation made by the DOJ calling it "horrible and very unfair."

Hours later, Barr stepped in to lower the sentencing recommendation, prompting questions about whether the Justice Department is being swayed by the White House and Washington politics.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.



Sean Gallup/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump has named Richard Grenell, the current U.S. ambassador to Germany, to be the acting director of national intelligence.

Trump posted the announcement on Twitter, and also thanked Joseph Maguire who has been serving as the acting DNI since Dan Coats resigned Aug. 15.

 

....for the wonderful job he has done, and we look forward to working with him closely, perhaps in another capacity within the Administration!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 20, 2020

In the tweet, the president also said Maguire may serve in another capacity within the administration.

The 53-year-old is a staunch Trump supporter who has served as ambassador in Berlin since May 8, 2018. He was confirmed by the U.S. Senate in a 56-42 vote on April 26, 2018.

Grenell will become the first openly gay member of the cabinet. The Michigan native is also a former spokesman at the United Nations and worked on the 2012 presidential campaign of Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah.

According to ABC News' records, on Sept. 14, 2019, Grenell joined the president at the White House for dinner with Fred and Cindy Warmbier, whose son Otto died shortly after being released from captivity in North Korea in June 2017.

Grenell received a master's degree in Public Administration from Harvard University and completed a bachelor degree at Evangel University in Springfield, Missouri, according to his biography posted on the State Department's website.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.



ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- Ahead of the Democratic primary debate in Las Vegas on Wednesday night, co-hosted by NBC, MSNBC and The Nevada Independent, the campaign of former Vice President Joe Biden released a new digital video slamming former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg for his past comments about former President Barack Obama.

“Welcome to the debates, Mike. We have a lot to catch up on about Barack Obama’s record,” Biden tweeted with a video set to circus-like music appearing to mock Bloomberg’s use of memes.

Welcome to the debates, Mike. We have a lot to catch up on about Barack Obama’s record. pic.twitter.com/bMYPLYwnfQ

— Joe Biden (Text Join to 30330) (@JoeBiden) February 19, 2020

Using the template of an Instagram direct message, Biden’s team goes after Bloomberg for his criticism of Obama’s record on the climate and economy.

“Hello Internet, I’m spending a lot of money this year. And I’d like to use it to make you think I’m a fan of Barack Obama. I’m not though. Quite the opposite,” the video reads.

The video features sound bites and news clips of Bloomberg speaking critically of Obamacare and Wall Street reforms. It also includes a clip of Bloomberg saying he thinks the country is “more segregated in terms of race” under Obama.

“Oh, I also refused to endorse him in 2008. But if a half a billion dollars in ads won’t make you ignore my record, that’s okay. I’ll always have my real friends,” the video continues, showing photos and clips of Bloomberg talking with or about Donald Trump.

The video ends with a statement saying, “Money can’t rewrite history.”

The Bloomberg team responded quickly, cutting their own digital ad by using clips from a 2013 speech at a conference where Biden praises Bloomberg.

"We are honored to have Joe’s support," the campaign tweeted alongside the video.

Joe Biden has dedicated his life to this country.

As a senator, and as a vice president, he has always stood by the side of great men.

We are honored to have Joe’s support. pic.twitter.com/t4XxgE1Yul

— Team Bloomberg (@Mike2020) February 19, 2020

“The best way to predict the future is to create it. I don't know anybody I've worked with in my career -- and I've been hanging around a long time -- who does more to create the future than you, Mike,” Biden said at the Clinton Global Initiative conference before presenting the Leadership in Public Service award to Bloomberg in 2013.

“Mike has what every public officials should have: passion matched with principal," Biden said in the speech. "Your legacy extends well beyond the five boroughs, the nation and the world has continued to benefit from the leadership that you have shown, and I am absolutely confident it's going to exist in the years to come. The thing I like about Mike is not about words. It's always about action."

“I'm Mike Bloomberg and I approve this message," the ad ends.

Biden's Communications Director Kate Bedingfield took issue with Bloomberg's response video.

"Using video and audio to imply you have an endorsement you don’t have. Yep, this tracks," she said in a tweet.

When asked about the video released by Bloomberg's campaign, Biden laughed it off, taking a swipe at the former mayor.

"Are you kidding me? I don’t endorse Republicans,” Biden told reporters while marching on the picket line with culinary workers outside of the Palms Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas on Wednesday.

The same message was later tweeted from the candidate's account.

"He’s basically been a Republican his whole life," Biden continued. "The fact of the matter is he didn’t endorse Barack or me when we ran... He’s using Barack’s pictures like they’re good buddies. I’m going to talk about his record."

On a call with reporters ahead of the debate, Biden's aides lit into Bloomberg, signaling that the former vice president intends to draw a sharp contrast with the former mayor on the debate stage.

One senior campaign official for Biden called recent stories about Bloomberg "disturbing," saying they have "questions about what else is still out there."

"$60 billion can buy you a lot of ads but it cannot erase your record, and it cannot purchase character,” the campaign official said.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.



Ethan Miller/Getty Images(LAS VEGAS) -- Former longtime Nevada lawmaker Harry Reid has declined to endorse a candidate ahead of the state's Democratic caucus, but he did speak strongly against Medicare for All, the hallmark policy plan of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders' campaign.

"I think the world of Bernie Sanders," Reid said in an interview for the "Powerhouse Politics" podcast on Wednesday, speaking highly of his former Senate colleague.

But Reid, who served as a Democrat in the U.S. Senate for 30 years, including as majority leader for eight years, said it didn't matter which candidate comes out in support of Sanders' signature health care plan: "I’m against it."

"It’s impractical ... There’s not a chance in hell it would pass," he told ABC News Political Director Rick Klein, instead advocating for strengthening the Affordable Care Act -- or Obamacare -- and looking to pass a public option.

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren -- another presidential candidate -- has also been a major supporter of Medicare for All.

"One of the things that I feel very good about is that I discovered Elizabeth Warren, brought her to Washington when we had the Wall Street collapse," Reid said, adding "She became head of the oversight committee and did a really good job ... so I think the world of Elizabeth Warren"

Reid spoke to Klein ahead of tonight's Democratic primary debate, the ninth in the 2020 cycle, which will feature six candidates. The lineup includes for the first time since he entered the race in late November: former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg.

In the interview, Reid defended Bloomberg's past Republican party affiliation, and praised the former mayor, despite the billionaire candidate skipping out on campaigning in the early nominating states, including Nevada, and not filing to be on the Democratic ballot for the "first in the west" caucus.

"He has, like a lot of candidates, a lot of warts and pimples," Reid said. "But the one thing I have to say about him is no one in the country has done more in climate and guns than he has. So I respect him if for no other reason, those two things that he's done I think have been wonderful."

NBC and MSNBC are hosting the debate in partnership with The Nevada Independent. It airs live starting at 9 p.m. ET from the Paris Theater in Las Vegas.

Reid also weighed in on the Nevada Democratic caucuses, the third nominating contest for this cycle, which are set to take place on Saturday beginning at 3 p.m. ET. While he conceded to Klein that he has a favorite in the race, he's chosen not to endorse ahead of the caucuses, preferring to "stay out of it."

"I want the caucus to go unhindered by anything that I'm doing wrong," Reid said.

After a reporting snafu caused by a flawed mobile app on the night of the Iowa Caucus led to delayed and disputed results, Reid was confident the Nevada Democrats, who abandoned plans to use the same reporting app, would avoid the "debacle" that happened in Iowa.

"We have the best state party organization in the country -- no question about that," Reid said. "We aren't using any of (Iowa's) software. We're using nothing that they had, and we feel very comfortable that we're going to have a good, respectable vote."

On "Powerhouse Politics," Reid touted the Silver State's diverse electorate, and he advocated for Nevada to move ahead in the primary calendar, taking the first contest position away from Iowa.

"Nevada is like the rest of the country. We're a diverse community," he said. "It should be the first state people come to test their viability."

The first two nominating states, Iowa and New Hampshire, are predominantly white, but Nevada is a majority-minority state with a nearly one-third Latinx population and 10% African American population. It also home to one of the fastest-growing Asian American and Pacific Islander communities in the country.

The state is also home to more than 13,000 Dreamers and more than 4,000 Temporary Protected Status (TPS) recipients, and 14% of Nevadans are union members - the largest organized labor presence of any early state, according to the Nevada Democratic Party.

On Saturday, Reid participated in the first day of the Nevada Democrats' early voting, which he said was "really simple." On "Powerhouse Politics," he applauded adding the new option for voters as "really the right thing to do."

"We had some long lines, but... I’m not really concerned about that. Why? Because people are wanting to vote," he said, adding that over 60% of voters who participated were either first-time caucus participants or first-time voters in general.

Between Saturday and Tuesday, voters could go to any open early voting location in the county in which they're registered to vote and fill out a ballot, ranking a minimum of three candidates and a maximum of five candidates, in lieu of participating in the traditional caucus. More than 70,000 Democrats participated in early voting, according to Molly Forgey, communications director for the Nevada Democratic Party. In the 2016 Democratic caucus, only 84,000 people total participated.

Staying true to not publicly favoring any one candidate, Reid ranked "uncommitted" three times on his ballot.

A total of 36 pledged delegates are at stake in Nevada on Saturday, and Reid said he thinks any of the candidates vying for the Democratic nomination could beat President Donald Trump.

"Two months ago, Trump was amoral. Today he’s amoral. He's a man who has done such damage to our country, and frankly, our standing in the world community. He is a man that is dangerous for so many different reasons," he told Klein. "

However, the former majority leader cautioned that Democrats "can’t take for granted that Trump will lose," saying, "He could win, and we have to be vigilant and make sure we do everything, and that the man is not reelected."

"But I think any of our people who want to be president of the United States who are Democrats, they'll thump Trump," Reid said. "I repeat, we will thump Trump."

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.



csfotoimages/iStock(PHOENIX) -- President Donald Trump is kicking off a West Coast campaign swing Wednesday with a rally in Phoenix, the capital of a state he lost in 2016 but hopes to flip in 2020.

Trump's event at the Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum marks the first of three rallies in three states in three days -- his biggest reelection-related time investment this cycle.

Following his stop in Arizona, Trump will take his road show to Colorado on Thursday and then Nevada on on Friday, the day before the crucial Democratic Nevada caucus.

The Arizona rally is another attempt by the president to counter Democrats, who have a critical debate Wednesday night featuring Sen. Bernie Sanders, who's surging in the polls, and Mike Bloomberg's first such appearance.

Trump supporters in Arizona waiting in line hours before the event said they're unfazed by Bloomberg's unprecedented spending ahead of the former New York City mayor's debate debut.

"I think it's fabulous," Ronda Dooley told ABC News. "I wan't him to pour more and more money after a dream that I don't think would be able to come to fruition."

Oscar Lopez, another Trump supporter, said he's worried about Bloomberg, reiterating a familiar attack the president's used against the billionaire.

"I know that they are joking and saying that he'll stand on a box, because he's supposed to be a little guy, little Mike or whatever," Lopez told ABC News. "We'll see."

With Friday's Nevada rally a day before the state's Democratic caucus, Trump's trip is a prime example of the president's desire to counter each event on the Democrats' calendar, refusing to cede a single news cycle.

But the president's trip is more than just counterprogramming -- he's planning to bring home millions of dollars for his reelection campaign thanks to two high-dollar California fundraisers.

A source familiar told ABC News that Trump may raise $14 million.

The president held a fundraiser on Tuesday in Beverly Hills with around 300 attendees and will head to another in Rancho Mirage on Wednesday with 60 attendees. The latter event, at Oracle Chairman Larry Ellison's California golf course and estate, marks a major tech mogul publicly backing the president, potentially a huge win for Trump in an election year.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.



Michael Kovac/WireImage/Getty Images(BAKERSFIELD, Calif.) -- President Donald Trump is expected to highlight his administration’s efforts to divert more water to farmers in California during his visit to Bakersfield on Wednesday, fulfilling a campaign promise and raising concerns among environmental advocates about the impact on at-risk ecosystems in the state.

The move highlights one of his campaign promises to farmers that he would lift environmental regulations he calls "overly burdensome" and, specifically in California, make water more available for agriculture.

Trump is expected to formally approve an Interior Department decision that would allow more water in California's Central Valley region to be diverted to farmers.

The federally-managed project has been a point of contention between farmers and conservationists who say diverting too much water could damage critical ecosystems, including for a tiny endangered fish called the delta smelt that serves as a crucial food source for other species of fish like salmon. Farmers say they need the water to preserve agriculture production during droughts.

But critics say the documents the president will approve have found different results than opinions under other administrations that raised concerns about the impact of diverting more water from fish populations.

"Making that permanent is potentially a death warrant for the larger Bay delta ecosystem," John Buse, senior counsel for the Center for Biological Diversity told ABC News, calling it a “total abdication” of the government’s conservation responsibilities.

"The president on previous campaign trips has made fun of the delta smelt but it's really a larger ecosystem wide collapse that we're talking about," he said.

The Center for Biological Diversity and other environmental groups have filed legal challenges to the decision to allow the project to move forward.

The move could also bring back questions about the appearance of a conflict of interest with Interior Secretary David Bernhardt on this issue, whose former client will get the bulk of the water contracts under this new plan. Interior says ethics officers cleared Bernhardt of any wrongdoing.

The president has previously weighed in on the contentious issue of water management in California during wildfire season, criticizing the state's Democratic leaders for how they manage water in the state that he inaccurately said could have been used to put out fires.

The debate about water is one of many areas where Trump has publicly attacked California lawmakers, criticizing them on how they manage wildfires, environmental issues and homelessness.

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DenisTangneyJr/iStock(SALT LAKE CITY) -- The Utah Senate unanimously passed a bill that effectively decriminalizes polygamy between consenting adults.

The bill would make polygamy an infraction, amending the current penalty punishable by up to five years in prison. Republican Sen. Deidre Henderson sponsored the bill.

It passed Tuesday and now will make its way to the House of Representatives.

Polygamy is most often considered to be a relationship between one man and multiple women, whom he claims are his wives.

However, cases where an arrangement stems from threat or coercion, or occurs under fraudulent pretenses, would remain a third-degree felony.

Representatives from Utah's Senate or House didn't immediately respond to requests for comment from ABC News.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.



Google Maps/Greater Idaho(PORTLAND, Ore.) -- The political divide in Oregon has gotten so severe that some conservative residents are fighting to secede and join Idaho.

The group known as "Greater Idaho" is seeking to create a ballot proposal in Oregon that would secede 19 counties located in the east and merge them with its neighbors.

Mike McCarter, one of the petitioners, said in a Facebook post that he and his neighbors are unhappy with the state legislature's work that threatens "our industries, our wallet, our gun rights, and our values."

"We tried voting those legislators out but rural Oregon is outnumbered and our voices are now ignored. This is our last resort," he said.

Greater Idaho says that two counties, Josephine and Douglas, have so far accepted the ballot proposal. The group is also seeking to add rural areas in California to the new state boundaries.

Over the last couple of years, there have been campaigns by some Californians and Oregon residents to secede and form the State of Jefferson, but those efforts failed. Priscilla Southwell, a professor of political science at the University of Oregon, said Greater Idaho's measure, will likely end up as a symbolic move.

"I think seceding will be unlikely that it will get enough signatures let alone pass," she said.

Southwell noted that Oregon may gain an additional seat in Congress following the next Census because of the state's population increase. The residents who are seeking secession may have a chance to vote for someone who represents their interests, according to Southwell.

"I would be an easier option," she said.

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ABC (NEW YORK) -- After lackluster finishes in the first two presidential contests, Sen. Elizabeth Warren will get a last-minute boost of support ahead of the Nevada caucuses from a new super PAC called "Persist," which is scheduled to air nearly $800,000 in ads in support of the presidential hopeful who has grounded her campaign in rooting out the influence of money in politics.

The PAC is led by a group of progressive women, including DC-based Democratic strategist Karin Johanson and Kim Rogers, the former political director of Heartland, a PAC started by former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack aimed at electing Democratic governors. Also on the board is Kristine Kippins, who is separately the policy director for the Constitutional Accountability Center, work unaffiliated with the PAC's efforts; prior to, she served as counsel for the Center for Reproductive Rights.

Filed with the Federal Election Commission on Tuesday afternoon, the new PAC released an ad the same night — just hours ahead of the democratic debate in Las Vegas and five days ahead of the caucuses.

According to a spokesperson for Persist, the PAC was founded within the last few weeks. Their aim, according to the spokesperson, is to push Warren’s message to more voters and caucus-goers.

There are seven figures behind the current ad in Nevada, though Persist said it expects to run more ads in primary states to come.

As of Wednesday morning, the PAC had at least $795,000 worth of air time in Las Vegas and Reno from Wednesday through Saturday, according to ad analysis firm CMAG/Kantar.

Not much else is known about the newly-formed group, including who's bankrolling the six-figure ad buys.

Throughout her presidential run, Warren has sought to distance herself from big-money groups, swearing off contributions from PACs and rejecting private high-dollar fundraisers. But the campaign cannot control outside groups' independent expenditures in support.

On Wednesday morning, the Warren campaign maintained their stance on the influence of super PAC support.

"Senator Warren’s position hasn’t changed," the campaign said in a statement to ABC News. "Since day one of this campaign, she has made clear that she thinks all of the candidates should lock arms together and say we don’t want super pacs and billionaires to be deciding our Democratic nominee."

For their part, a spokesperson for the Persist PAC said they support Warren’s goals to keep big money out of politics, but emphasized that it might not happen unless they play by the campaign rules that exist today.

The bolstered airtime in Nevada from Persist comes as Warren's standing in the race slides. She finished third in Iowa and fourth in New Hampshire, despite having some of the strongest organizations on the ground in both states, and the potential home state advantage from neighboring Massachusetts.

Warren's campaign has since attempted to lower expectations for Warren in the early states and instead focus on victories in Super Tuesday states, where campaign manager Roger Lau predicted that Warren could finish in the top two in eight of the 14 states.

Persist PAC's name echoes one of Warren's taglines. "Nevertheless, she persisted" has long been a core mantra for the campaign's brand, following a contentious exchange with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on the Senate floor in 2017.

"When you don't grow up rich, you learn how to work," narrated a female voice in the PAC's first ad, released late Tuesday night.

"When the system is broken, you step up to fix it," the narrator said as the ad featured a photo of Warren, hands with "Stop Kavanaugh" penned in ink on the palm. "That's why Obama picked her."

"It's why she'll take him on — and win," the narrator said, quickly intercutting a shot of President Donald Trump.

In her previous Senate races, Warren has received the support of PACs and other outside groups. She is currently supported by the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, a PAC that has backed her since her first foray into electoral politics in 2012.

But just weeks ago during the Democratic debate in New Hampshire, Warren called out her opponents on stage for receiving help from super PACS, pointing out that only her and Sen. Amy Klobuchar were exempt.

"Everyone on this stage except Amy and me is either a billionaire or is receiving help from PACs that can do unlimited spending," Warren said.

"If you really want to live where you say, then put your money where your mouth is and say no to the PACS," Warren challenged onstage in New Hampshire. "I think the way we build a democracy going forward is not billionaires reaching in their own pockets or people sucking up to billionaires. The way we build it going forward is we have a grassroots movement funded from the grassroots up. That's the way I'm running this campaign."

Since then, a newly-formed pro-Klobuchar super PAC has also formed. Kitchen Table Conversations PAC formed last week and placed $284,000 of ads in Nevada on Monday.

The group hasn't filed donor disclosure records providing details on who's funding it.

Warren and Klobuchar are the latest in the list of 2020 Democrats contenders who now find themselves backed by super PACs as the primary season enters an increasingly aggressive phase, despite their appearance earlier last year to distance themselves from big-money groups.

Former Vice President Joe Biden is being backed by a super PAC funded by wealthy allies, while former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg is being supported by a liberal pro-veterans group VoteVets. Both groups have already poured millions on behalf of the moderate Democrats.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.



Samuel Corum/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy met with Iran’s foreign minister during a security conference in Germany over the weekend, prompting quick condemnation from conservatives including President Donald Trump -- who accused the Democratic senator of violating an arcane federal law that criminalizes unauthorized negotiations with foreign governments.

Murphy confirmed the meeting with Mohammed Javad Zarif in a Medium post on Tuesday.

"I have no delusions about Iran -- they are our adversary, responsible for the killing of thousands of Americans and unacceptable levels of support for terrorist organizations throughout the Middle East," Murphy wrote. "But I think it’s dangerous to not talk to your enemies."

He added, "Discussions and negotiations are a way to ease tensions and reduce the chances for crisis. But Trump, of course, has no such interests."

Trump expressed confusion over the meeting as he boarded Air Force One on Tuesday.

"I saw Senator Murphy met with the Iranians, is that a fact?" Trump asked reporters, adding "I just saw that on the way over. Is there anything I should know? Because that sounds like, to me, a violation of the Logan Act."

"What happened with that?" Trump continued. "They ought to find out about if it’s true. I don’t know."

The law in question -- the Logan Act -- is an obscure statute that has received renewed attention in recent years. Signed into law in 1799, it penalizes private individuals for negotiating or collaborating with foreign governments on issues involving the United States without the federal government's permission. No one has ever been prosecuted under the law.

Trump took to Twitter on Wednesday, going after Murphy.

Kerry & Murphy illegally violated the Logan Act. This is why Iran is not making a deal. Must be dealt with strongly! https://t.co/RpTW9c09ZY

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 19, 2020

"Kerry & Murphy illegally violated the Logan Act. This is why Iran is not making a deal. Must be dealt with strongly!" Trump tweeted.

Murphy responded on Twitter, calling Trump out for his Iran policy, calling it a "disastrous failure."

Iran restarted their nuclear program, fired at our troops, upped support for proxies. Your Iran policy is a disastrous failure.

And FYI I’m the Ranking Member on the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee on the Middle East. It’s literally my job to meet with regional leaders. https://t.co/9z0wNvfxC5

— Chris Murphy (@ChrisMurphyCT) February 19, 2020

"Iran restarted their nuclear program, fired at our troops, upped support for proxies. Your Iran policy is a disastrous failure," Murphy tweeted, adding that "It’s literally my job to meet with regional leaders."

Trump had previously gone after former Secretary of State John Kerry for taking meetings with Iran over the years, calling for the former senator and top U.S. diplomat to be prosecuted for meeting with Iranian leaders and "telling them what to do."

Current Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Tuesday that he wasn’t aware of Murphy’s meeting with Zarif.

"If they met, I don’t know what they said," Pompeo told reporters Tuesday. "I hope they were reinforcing America’s foreign policy, not their own."

Pompeo also bashed Zarif: "This guy's been designated by the United States of America. He's the foreign minister for a country that shot down a commercial airliner and has yet to turn over the black boxes. This is the foreign minister of a country that killed an American on Dec. 27."

He added, "And he's the foreign minister of a country that's the world's largest sponsor of state terror and the world's largest sponsor of anti-Semitism."

Murphy acknowledged in his post that he can’t conduct diplomacy on behalf of the U.S. government.

"I don’t know whether my visit with Zarif will make a difference. I’m not the President or the Secretary of State -- I’m just a rank and file U.S. Senator," he wrote. "I cannot conduct diplomacy on behalf of the whole of the U.S. government, and I don’t pretend to be in a position to do so."

He continued, "If Trump isn’t going to talk to Iran, then someone should."

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.



3dfoto/iStock(LAS VEGAS) -- The Democrats storming Nevada in the lead up to Saturday's caucuses are set to first face off in Wednesday night's debate, a matchup in a more diverse early state than the first two, with a new wrinkle in the form of billionaire Michael Bloomberg, who will take the stage for the first time.

The debate, which will be hosted by NBC, MSNBC and the Nevada Independent in the state's epicenter of Las Vegas, brings the presidential contenders in front a different audience that far more reflects the makeup of the Democratic Party and the country as a whole. Nevada is nearly 30% Latino, over 10% black and encompasses one of the nation's fastest-growing Asian-American and Pacific Islander populations.

But once again absent from the Democratic debate stage, and from the primary's top tier, is a candidate of color -- a somewhat unexpected reality for a party that once touted its most diverse field, even with a still fluid race. Only six candidates are expected to square off in the matchup, which takes place only three days ahead of the Nevada caucuses.

The third nominating contest of the cycle is shaping up to be even more crucial after the first two contests in Iowa and New Hampshire failed to anoint a front-runner and left two other top campaigns faltering.

The Democratic National Committee announced the qualified candidates for the ninth Democratic debate Wednesday, including:

  • Former Vice President Joe Biden
  • Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg
  • Former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg
  • Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar
  • Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders
  • Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren

For the contenders on stage who are not Sanders, the victor out of New Hampshire, or Buttigieg, the overall delegate leader so far, the debate in the Battle Born state brings an opportunity to deliver a final pitch to woo caucus-goers, who they hope will reset the Democratic primary race in the "first in the west" contest.

But since the New Hampshire primary earlier this month, most of the presidential hopefuls have set their sights squarely on targeting Bloomberg - for his wealth and self-funded campaign, his complicated record on race, particularly his since-retracted support for "stop-and-frisk," and his blurred ideological allegiance - despite the fact that he is not competing in the first four early states.

Sanders' campaign manager Jeff Weaver told CNN Tuesday that if the senator were to become the nominee, he wouldn't accept a dime from Bloomberg, part of his "no billionaire donors" policy. Earlier in the week, Sanders chastised the multibillionaire, telling thousands of supporters in Richmond, Calif., "Now Mr. Bloomberg, like anybody else, has a right to run for president. He does not have a right to buy the presidency."

Invoking a similar refrain, Warren, who has also cultivated a brand of antagonizing billionaires, said of Bloomberg clinching a podium on the day of the deadline, "It's a shame Mike Bloomberg can buy his way into the debate. But at least now primary voters curious about how each candidate will take on Donald Trump can get a live demonstration of how we each take on an egomaniac billionaire."

Biden, too, unleashed on the former mayor, telling MSNBC on Monday, "He can buy every ad he wants, but he wants but he can't, in fact, wipe away his record including stop-and-frisk and policy assertions and the like. So, I'm looking forward to debating Michael Bloomberg." Over the weekend, Klobuchar conceded that she might not be able to go toe-to-toe with Bloomberg's deep pockets, but she also signaled an eagerness to confront him: "I think he should be on the debate stage, because I can't beat him on the airwaves. But I can beat him on the debate stage."

Bloomberg's last-minute entry has long roiled the rest of the field, but the sharpened attacks in recent days reflect the anxiety over his steady rise in the Democratic primary -- even as he spends his time carving out his own parallel race to the Democratic convention. He plans to make a formal entrance on the ballot on Super Tuesday, the single-biggest day of voting in the presidential primary. But on Wednesday, Bloomberg will have to come out from behind the curtain and face the competitors keen to take him on.

Beyond the Bloomberg factor, for both Biden and Warren, the debate will be a critical turn for each of their quests to overcome Sanders' massive army of supporters and Buttigieg's delegate edge.

Warren spent the weekend on the trail battling a cold, with barely any voice, but nonetheless, she continued from campaign stop to campaign stop to make her case before caucusgoers.

"So, people told me when they heard me, early this morning, they said 'you gotta cancel your day in Reno,'" she told supporters. "And I said, "Reno's been left out of way too many conversations for way too long. That's not gonna happen."

For his part, Biden has been leaning into his advantage among minority voters, who comprise of the bedrock of his support, spending the weekend arguing that "99% of the African American vote hasn't spoken yet and 99% of Latino vote hasn't spoken yet."

"There can be no Democratic nominee, none without the voice of Latinos and African American voters being heard and heard loudly," he said in Las Vegas on Sunday.

The debate will also be a key opportunity for Buttigieg, who despite his position at the top of the delegate race, has long struggled to make inroads with some of the most diverse blocs within the Democratic Party.

With minorities making up a large portion of the electorate in the last two early states before March 3rd's 15 contests, he is set to likely face a tougher road ahead. But on Tuesday, brushing off any concerns about his two rivals at the top of national polls, Sanders and Bloomberg, Buttigieg signaled a readiness to get on stage.

"I don't think most Democratic voters would be happy if their only choices were between somebody saying you only fit in if you're for a revolution, or somebody who is trying to buy the election from a position of being a billionaire," he said in an interview with ABC News' Eva Pilgrim in Las Vegas. "You have to actually be willing to look voters in the eye to take questions. At some point you've got to be ready to be challenged. That's what we have been doing on the campaign trail for the last year."

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.



Ivan Cholakov/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- The Pentagon's number three official resigned on Wednesday at the request of President Donald Trump, but it was unclear why.

Neither the Pentagon nor the White House offered a public explanation.

John Rood served as the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, assuming the position under former defense secretary James Mattis in January 2018. While he was a key player in the military aid to Ukraine that was ultimately withheld by the president and led to the impeachment inquiry, a defense official told ABC News that Rood's role in the aid process was not related to his firing.

In his resignation letter addressed to the president and dated Feb. 19, Rood wrote, "It’s my understanding from Secretary Esper that you requested my resignation from serving as Under Secretary of Defense for Policy. Senior administration officials appointed by the President serve at the pleasure of the President, and therefore, as you have requested, I am providing my resignation effective February 28, 2020.”

In a tweet on Wednesday, Trump thanked Rood for service to the country and wished him well in future endeavors.

Rood became linked to the impeachment inquiry into the president in part because he was the senior defense official who certified in a letter to Congress in May that Ukraine had made "sufficient progress" towards defense and corruption reform that allowed the $250 million in security assistance funding to flow.

The next month, that aid was withheld by the White House in violation of the law, according to the Government Accountability Office, with Trump administration officials testifying during the impeachment hearings that it was part of a quid pro quo at Trump's request where aid would only be released if the Ukrainian government agreed to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter.

Rood told reporters in December that he became aware that military aid to Ukraine had been held up "significantly after May" but "never received a very clear explanation" as to why.

Asked by ABC News if there was a link between Rood's resignation and his role in certifying the aid to Ukraine, Chief Pentagon spokesperson Jonathan Hoffman said during a news conference on Wednesday that sounded "speculative."

"I have no information that would lead me to that conclusion," Hoffman said.

He could not say whether Esper recommended to the president that Rood be removed and referred back to the resignation letter.

A defense official told ABC News that Rood's resignation should not be linked to the impeachment inquiry. A former official said the departure is more likely because of Rood's policy disagreements over issues like Syria, North Korea, Iran and Ukraine.

However, Rood's divisive leadership style has been reported as a source of frustration within the department. In December, Foreign Policy reported that many current and former defense officials blamed Rood for creating a toxic work environment and identified him as a reason the Pentagon saw an exodus of top officials and was struggling to fill posts.

"I would like to thank John Rood for his service to the Department," Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said in statement released by the department. "John has played a critical role on a wide range of DoD issues including modernizing our nuclear deterrence capability, efforts to increase burden sharing by our NATO allies, our Missile Defense Review and implementing the National Defense Strategy. I wish him all the best in his future endeavors."

In that statement, Pentagon press secretary Alyssa Farah announced that James Anderson, the current senior official performing the duties of the Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, will take over Rood's responsibilities until a permanent replacement is appointed by the president and confirmed.

Rood wrote in his resignation letter that he was drawn to public service beginning with his time with the Central Intelligence Agency in 1988. He later served at the State Department, Pentagon, National Security Council and as a staffer on Capitol Hill before working in the private sector at two large defense companies, Raytheon and Lockheed Martin.

"I thank you for giving me the privilege of again contributing in service to our Nation," Rood told the president.

"I leave with the utmost admiration for the outstanding team with which I worked at the Defense Department," he concluded.

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